How important/defined really is the usted/tu distinction? I have heard the usted used only a few times in real life and a few more on tv/podcasts, but otherwise I never hear it. I work with a lot of (mostly young, american-born) dominicans and I once overheard a coworker explaining to another spanish-speaking coworker what usted was, because apparently she didn't know. from Anonymous
It depends on the area.
There are some places that never use Usted. There are places that ONLY use Usted.
I personally use Usted for the sake of courtesy and politeness. If it’s someone I don’t know, someone who’s my elder, or a teacher, or a doctor, or someone who has a position higher than me… then I use Usted.
It’s more often the case that you don’t say Usted but simply use their verbs in the 3rd person singular. That’s just because it can be kind of overly emphatic to keep saying Usted.
But I use 3rd person singular, and you have to remember things like le agradezco instead of te agradezco… or using su instead of tu.
Some people don’t use it, some people do.
It’s the same way with tú where some people only use vos and never tú… but it still exists in some Spanish-speaking regions.
In Spain, usted is getting more and more rare, and so whenever I meet a younger, let’s say, Colombian guy, and he calls me usted constantly, it makes me feel strange